December 23, 2012
Have No Fear – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Luke 1 & 2

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Red, The Color of Christmas explains how Christmas and Easter go hand in hand and how Jesus showed us that the real Christmas tree is the cross. Jesus did not simply come to solve the troubles and worries of this world but came to offer salvation to a world at war with God.

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Well, I invite you to take your Bible, turn to Luke 1. If you were with us last week, we started a message I want to complete this morning, a message I’ve entitled, Have No Fear. Have No Fear. We’re always struggling with fear. We’re not unlike the little fellah who had a role in a drama at school and then he was to come on and say, “Fear not, it is I,” but when he’d come on with the spotlight in his face and the crowd before him, he said, “It’s me and I’m scared.”
We can be a bit like that. We’re not meant to be frightened, but we’re often scared. There’s a great message that comes out of the Christmas story. We started to look at the three fear-nots. They’re to be found in Luke 1 and 2. Let’s just look at one more of them here as we read from Verse 26 of Luke 1.
Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee near Nazareth, to a virgin, betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the House of David. The virgin’s name was Mary and having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice highly-favored one. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the son of the highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said the angel, “How can this be since I do not know a man.” And the angel answered and said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the highest will overshadow you. Therefore also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God. By indeed Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age and this is nigh the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. What a great section of the Christmas story, just one of the fear-nots of Luke 1 and 2.
There’s a story that comes out of India, the tales of a mouse that was terrified of cats. That was until a magician agreed to transform the mouse into a cat and that solved the problem until the new cat met a dog, and there was a new level of fear. So the magician turned the cat into a dog and that worked fine until the new dog met a tiger. So the magician turned him into a tiger. That helped for a while until the tiger met a hunter. The mouse-turned-cat, turned-dog, turned-tiger complained to the magician. This time the magician turned him back into a mouse saying quote, “You have the body of a tiger but you’ve still got the heart of a mouse.”
Through the gospel, God reverses that process. As Christians, we are still mortal, finite and frail. We still have the body of a human being, but we have been given the heart of the spirit. Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:9, God has not given us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power. It seems that Timothy was a shy sort of a soul, an introvert or a tiring kind of fellow and sometimes he was seized by fear. Fear of a situation, fear of a new challenge, fear of people, and Paul writes them and says, “You know what, I want to remind you Timothy, that cowardice and hesitancy and reservation is unbecoming of someone who’s indwelled by the Holy Spirit, someone who has the promise of Jesus Christ, although I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Listen, the Christian ought to be someone who refuses to panic. Listen, the Christian is someone super-charged with God’s presence and God’s power who, like David, runs towards their Goliaths, not from them. Remember what David said in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”. In the best of circumstances, the Christian is someone who refuses to panic. The Christian is someone who runs towards their goliaths, not from them.
The late Ann Landers, who wrote an advice column for over three decades, reported that on a weekly basis she received some 10,000 letters. These letters had all sorts of questions and concerns from all over the country, and it might surprise you to realize that the number one issue wasn’t sex, it wasn’t children, it wasn’t finances, it was fear. There are many today seized by a sense of foreboding and fear. Maybe that’s why GK Chesterton and the great British writer and English essayist said that if you were able to preach one sermon and only one, it would be on fear.
Fear is a problem, but it is one that ought to be conquered by the Christian. We have not been given a spirit of timidity but of power in the Lord Jesus Christ. So let’s come to our text, Luke 1 and 2 and to our sermon, Have No Fear, because we saw last week that there are three occasions in this text concerning the Christmas story where three individuals are told not to fear. And I want us to come back and look at those three individuals. I want us to come back and look at those three incidences so that you and I might learn to calm our fears.
We’re in the corridor basically right now between 2012 and 2013, and maybe you some of you’re very anxious about the year that lies ahead. You’re not sure about your health, you’re not sure about your wealth, you’re not sure about your wellbeing, your family, your life context. Well, come with me to this text and learn to calm your fears to sleep Because to Zacharias, the angel says, “Fear not God has answered your prayer.” To Mary the angel says, “Fear not highly-favored one, the Lord is with you.” And to the shepherds, the angel says, “Fear not. I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to you and all people for unto you this day is born in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.” Fear not, pray. That seems to be the message that comes out of Zacharias’ encounter with Gabriel, pray with the assurance that God hears and answers prayer.
We saw that the last time we were together. It’s a wonderful thing to know in the midst of our trials, in the midst of our troubles, when life is on the line, that we can go to someone bigger than our problems who can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think. What a friend we truly have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. It’s true. Oh, what peace we forfeit and what needless pain we bear because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. We often do and then we take them as soon as we’ve prayed them back to where we came from. But we saw last week, God loves to answer the prayers of his people.
His eye is on the righteous. His ear is open to their cry. Sometimes he answers before we pray. Sometimes he answers while we’re praying, sometimes more often than not, he answers after we have prayed and we need to be patient. We need to trust his timing. And we saw with Zacharias, God picked the most opportune moment to tell Zacharias, “Hey, fear not God has answered your prayer.” This was a once-in-a-lifetime service that Zacharias was lending within the holy place of the temple. God picks his moment. We got to trust him with the answer and we’ve got to trust him with the timing of that answer. Don’t panic, pray. Let’s move on. Don’t panic, perform. Don’t panic, perform or don’t panic, act. This is the message I think that comes out of the encounter between Mary and Gabriel. We’ve got to act in the confidence of God’s abounding and abundant grace that he gives to us, that enables us and matches us to every challenge, every crisis and every circumstance in life.
Let’s go to our text. Luke 1:26-38, but I want you to notice Verse 30, with this encounter between Mary and Gabriel. She’s troubled according to Verse 29 by this saying, what do you mean highly-favored one? What do you mean God is with me? What’s going on? What are you talking about? She’s troubled by what she is hearing, and she’s about to hear that God’s going to use her in a special way. She’s going to become the vehicle by which the very son of the living God, the word made flesh is going to be born. What are you saying? She says she’s troubled by this greeting. She’s surprised by the glorious presence of the angel himself. And then you’ve got this fear not statement of Verse 30. Then the angel said to her, hey, calm down. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid. You are favored by God.
We’re six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy here. The angel Gabriel is visiting the sleepy and smelly little town of Nazareth to tell a teenage girl that she’s been chosen to be the vehicle by which the son of God and the savior of the world and Israel’s lone Messiah would be born. Verse 31: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son. He shall be called Jesus. He will be great, he will be called the son of the highest. The Lord will give him the throne of his Father, David, and he will reign and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” And in the midst of the shock and the awe of Gabriel’s appearing, Mary is told that this child will be virgin- borne.
That’s her question. I don’t know a man, I haven’t had sex. I’m a virgin. Is Joseph going to be in on this thing? No, this is going to be a special birth because this is a unique child. And this will be a creative act of the Holy Spirit. We see that in Verses 34-38. Look at Verse 35: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore that holy one who’s to be born in you will be called the Son of God.”
Now let’s step back here. Let’s put ourself in Mary’s shoes. This all seems improbable, it all seems impossible, and we know that’s an issue because the text will go on to remind her with God all things are possible. Basically, Mary, I know you’re thinking this isn’t possible, but it’s possible. Looking at the girl and looking at the time, it all seems improbable.
Paul Benware has an excellent little comment and Luke says, “A young girl like Mary was usually betrothed between the ages of 12 and 12-and-a-half. The betrothal ceremony began the transfer of the girl from the authority of her father to the authority of the husband, and if the situation of Mary and Joseph was normal for that time, Mary was probably in her early teens when Gabriel appeared to her and the news was given to her that she’d be the mother of the Messiah. Amazing, possibly anywhere between 14 and 16.
The town, Nazareth. If you read Josephus, the great Jewish historian, he mentions 45 times in Galilee, never mentions Nazareth. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Talmud. Nowhere is it part of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. This was a town about 60 acres in size, about 500 inhabitants. It was a place marked by mediocrity, obscurity, had no prophetic significance. You remember one of the biblical characters in John 1:46 says, “Can anything good come out a Nazareth?”.
What’s the point? Well, looking at this little girl and looking at this small, insignificant, smelly little town, we’ve got a nobody from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere being visited by the angel. Gabriel and fingered to do one of the great assignments in human history, to bear the very son of God and to nurture him as a child. Looking at the assignment, let alone the girl and the place, it seems not only improbable but impossible. Mary was being called to be the mother of the Messiah by means of a virgin birth. That’s why she’ll really basically say, “Me? What?”. Here’s the interesting thing, what God was calling her to was something far greater than God was calling Zacharias to. I mean there’s an interesting contrast between Mary and Zacharias if you want to kind of study it.
He doesn’t believe. She does. He questions the whole thing. She simply asks a question. And he’s got precedence. If you go back to the Old Testament, there is precedence in the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah, for example. Or people in old age when the womb is barren, when they’re passed that childbearing season in life, that God does a wonderful thing. There’s precedence in the Old Testament for what’s about to happen to Zacharias and Elizabeth, but there’s no precedence for what Mary’s about to go through. Everything about Mary was ordinary. Everything about what she was called to do, extraordinary.
Before we get to the point I want to make, I’ll just go on a little footnote here. I like this. This is encouraging, isn’t it? God loves to take improbable people from obscure places to accomplish impossible things in prominent places. I love that. Daniel 11:32 would remind us that “They that know their God will do great exploits.” My friend, the only explanation for what Mary accomplishes and what others have done throughout church history is that they knew their God and God knew them and made them known. The glove is nothing, the hand is everything.
That’s why Hudson Taylor once said, “All of God’s great sins have reckoned on God being with them.” But I like that God loves to take the improbable person from an obscure place to accomplish an impossible task in a prominent situation. But Mary shows great faith here in contrast to Zacharias’ initial faithlessness. But while she showed faith, he also showed fear as we see in Verse 30. She’s terrified, she’s confused, she’s afraid by the presence of this angel and the message that he brings. It’s overwhelming, and fear has a way of immobilizing us, paralyzing us. It makes us hesitant, reserved, passive, adverse to risk. And when Mary hears this, no doubt, she says, “Hey, this is way beyond my pay grade.”
I think you’ve got the wrong gal, maybe the wrong town. But you see, this wasn’t an easy task that God was calling her to. She would face the gossip of her village, the misunderstanding of her husband, at least initially. She would be thrown into spiritual warfare as the enemies of Jesus Christ tried to snuff out his life, not to mention the prophecy here in Luke 2:34-35 of the sword that someday would pierce her, probably a reference to the fact of the horror and sorrow she would face watching Jesus Christ hang on a cross.
But listen, for all of these things, God promised his abundant grace. You say, “Where do you get that?”. Well, look at Verse 30: “Then the angel said to her, do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The word favor there is, or carros in the Greek, it’s the word that we use for grace. Mary, you’re graced by God, you’re favored by God. With God’s commandments and assignments comes God’s enablements. God’s grace would be made available to Mary adequately and sufficiently. She was a favored one. She was greatly graced by God. That’s the point of the text.
Now, I don’t want to spend a long time here, but I do need to clarify something because this is a text that’s been misread and misused by the Roman Catholic Church. Based on this text and the text of Verse 28, you’ve heard something like this, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, blessed it is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now, in the hour of our death. That’s the prayer of the Roman Catholic to Mary, for her to send her aid and speak to her son and have heaven turn in favor towards the praying soul and the dying saint.
But that kind of prayer is a misreading of this text. Because that prayer has us thinking that Mary is a source of grace. But the text says nothing about that. Mary is an object of grace. She’s not a source of grace, she’s not a dispenser of grace, she’s not a fountain of grace. She’s a recipient. She’s not a repository of grace. In fact, this is a passive participle. It means she’s being acted upon. She’s not doing anything in this. There’s nothing in this text about her taking that grace and giving it away. Roman Catholic Church has taken this wonderful biblical figure and turned her basically into a surrogate savior.
If you study Catholic theology, you’ll realize they believe in Mary’s immaculate conception, that God greatly graced her to the degree that within the womb of her mother she became sinless and remained sinless her whole life. She remained the virgin her whole life. She didn’t die but was taken bodily in assumption to heaven where she was crowned the queen of heaven, where she works alongside her son in a ministry of mediation. Where millions of people are encouraged to pray to her, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” That’s not in this text, that’s not in the Bible. In fact, you know what’s interesting? This phrase, greatly-favored, is found only once in the Bible beyond this text and it’s Ephesians 1:6, and it’s used of all Christians. All those who have been accepted in the beloved, have come to enjoy God’s salvation.
I like what Philip Graham Ryken says, this is worth repeating, “The way Mary helps us is not by giving us grace but by showing that God can give us the same kind of grace that He gave her. Mary is the blessed virgin, her alone was called to give birth to the son of God. Her experience is not our experience; nevertheless, her example is for us. Since she received grace from God, her example proves that God shows unmerited favor to lowly sinners. Even when we feel small and insignificant, overlooked by the world, we can know that God is for us. Gabriel’s greeting shows grace for the lowly.”
And Mary will talk about that once in Luke 1:52 in her Magnificat, when she sings and gives thanks to God, how He exalts the lowly. Mary would be appalled at what she’s been made into in Romanism. But if they make too much of her, let us not make too little of her. She’s a wonderful example of motherhood. She’s a wonderful example of godliness, and she reminds us that God’s grace comes to people just like her, and just like you and just like me. So in this greeting, Mary is given in advance the assurance that God’s help and supply and accomplishing His will for her will indeed be hers to enjoy.
She appears within this text, not as the queen of heaven, but as a simple, wandering and worried peasant girl caught up in the sweep of redemptive history. God promises to be with her strongly. “Mary, you’re highly-favored,” Verse 28, “Greatly graced and God is with you. Don’t be afraid. You’re favored.” There’s grace for this. The Lord is with you. That’s a great message for us here this Christmas. It’s good to know that the God of all grace, that’s how God has described in 1 Peter 5:10, supplies to us all the grace that we need in all things, 2 Corinthians 8:9. In fact, Warren Wiersbe has a great acrostic for the word grace. You may want to write this down. What is grace? Well, in some sense it’s just God’s favor. It’s God’s kindness. It’s God’s love, it’s God’s blessing, and the conduit is Jesus Christ. And it comes to us in different seasons, in different ways for different things.
Here’s what GRACE is. God’s Resources Available to Christians Everywhere. Amen. I like that. GRACE, God’s Resources Available to Christians Everywhere. Christ is the wellspring of grace to his people. We saw that a few weeks ago, didn’t we in 1 John 1:16, “Where of his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” Grace comes to us in various forms at different seasons for particular purposes. Spurgeon said, “I wish to live under the everlasting drip of grace.” That’s good and it is a never-lasting drip. In fact, one writer likens it to an intravenous injection. “Grace is the powerful and constant reality of the believer. I define grace as God doing for us, in us and through us will we kind of do for ourselves through the person and power of Jesus Christ. I like to think of grace as a supernatural intravenous solution constantly hooked up to the heart. It starts to flow the moment we turn to Jesus Christ, it supplies his full provision for all we need regardless of trial or temptation.”
I think I’ve mentioned this, but have you ever noticed the different kinds of grace that are mentioned? There’s saving grace, right? Ephesians 2:8-9, saving grace, “For by grace, are we saved? That not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” The only thing you and I contribute to our salvation is the very thing that makes it necessary. We’re in debt to God. We cannot pay that debt. But in God’s grace, out of God’s unmerited favor, Jesus Christ went to the cross and bore our sin. As I heard somebody put it recently, “He left his place, He came to our place, He took our place so that someday we might be with him in his place.”
That’s the gospel, and it’s free, it’s unmerited. You don’t get to heaven by keeping the 10 commandments. You don’t get to heaven by going through the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. You don’t get to heaven by doing this or doing that. You get to heaven by believing in Jesus Christ, the son of God, the one who paid for your sin on the cross. It’s faith alone in Christ alone because of grace alone that will get you to heaven. There’s saving grace, there’s strengthening grace. See, once we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we were hooked up to this intravenous solution of grace that keeps dripping everlastingly. And He not only sees us, but He strengthens us because now we need power to live the Christian life. People say, “You know what? I’d love to be a Christian but I could never live it.” No, you can’t live it, but He’ll live it through you and with you, and He’ll give you grace to stand and to witness and to serve.
In 2 Timothy 2:1, that’s what Paul says to Timothy, “Stand strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They’re serving grace. When you go to Romans 12, Paul talks about these special enablements that God gives his people, “For I say through the grace given to me,” Verse 3, “To everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to, but to think soberly as God has dealt to each man measure of faith for as we are many members of one body, but all members do not have the same function. So we are one body in Christ, but individual members of one another, having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” Our bodies have different parts, but they’re one whole working together, and you and I have been given certain gifts and assignments within the church to serve Jesus Christ by God’s grace and you need to discover what that is and then serve him in the strength of that grace using the gift of grace that’s been given to you.
There’s singing grace. If you go to Colossians 3:16, we’ve got this wonderful statement by Paul. He talks about the word of Christ dwelling in us richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your heart. Paul actually lived this. I was thinking about this this morning as I was going back over my notes, this came to me. Acts 16, where Paul and Silas are in prison in Philippi. They’re chained, they’re all locked up and what do we read? It was midnight and Paul and Silas were singing. They’re singing grace. Would you be singing locked up in prison? But there’s grace for that. God gives us songs in the night. He allows us to be joyful when everything’s crashing around us. There’s saving grace, there’s strengthening grace, there’s serving grace, there’s singing grace and there’s sufficient grace.
There’s 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. We knew it well. It’s the story of Paul being lifted up into the third heaven, but he’s not allowed to talk about it, to compensate for a ballooning pride that could come after such an experience. God gives him a thorn in the flesh to keep him rooted and humbled. We don’t know what that is. Could be a physical ailment, could be failing eyesight. Some think it’s those who oppose him in Corinth. Whatever it was, it was nasty. It’s not anything you’d want inside of you or outside of you, whatever it was. And Paul prays that God would remove it. God doesn’t do that. Remember, three answers to prayer: Yes, no, later. This one was a no. But here’s what Paul learned, but my grace is sufficient for you, Paul. My strength will be made perfect in your weakness, my spirit’s wind will fill your flagging sails and carry you forward, sufficient grace.
That’s probably an understatement. It’s like a billionaire saying that his fortune is sufficient to cover a cup of coffee. It’s like the ocean saying its waters are sufficient to fill a thimble. My grace. The God of all grace can give us grace sufficiently, for anything and everything we go through. Spurgeon said he wanted to live under the everlasting drip of God’s grace, and he did. What a life. Read something of Spurgeon’s life. He was a ministry tornado. By the age of 21, he had preached some 600 times. Throughout his ministry, he read six books a week. Across his life, he wrote 140 himself. His collected sermons filled 63 volumes and stands as the largest collections of books by a single author. He pastored a megachurch before there were megachurches, 4,000 people made up his congregation in London. He started and laid a pastor’s college. He started and laid an orphanage.
The missionary David Livingstone once said to him, “How do you manage to do the work of two men in a single day?”. In fact, it has said he often worked 18 hours a day. Well, here’s what he said to the question, “How do you manage to do the work of two men in a single day?”. He said, “Have you forgotten there are two of us.” That is good. Christ in me, the hope of glory. There is grace. In fact, one day when Spurgeon was pretty tired and beat up, feeling a little down, he got home to his study having taken his carriage from his church back to his home and gone through the cobble streets of London along the Thames River there.
And he started to think when he got home about that phrase, my grace is sufficient for you. And he said this, “It was as though some little fish being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking the river dry, and Father Thames said, ‘Drink away little fish. My stream is sufficient for thee.’ Or it seemed like a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt after seven years of plenty, fearing it might die of famine. And Joseph is saying, ‘Cheer up little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.’ While there’s enough water in the River Thames for little fish, and there’s enough grain in the grain houses of Egypt for a little mouse, and there’s enough grace for Mary. There’s enough grace for Paul, and there’s enough grace for you.” Grace to save you, no matter who you are and what you’ve done. Grace to keep you, grace to use you in a marvelous way within God’s kingdom. Grace that will give you a song in the night and grace that will sufficiently meet your every need.
Let’s get to the last thought here just quickly. Don’t panic, pray. Zacharias, don’t fear, your prayers have been answered. Don’t panic, perform, act. Don’t become paralyzed, get up and get on my life. Charge at your Goliath. Don’t run from him, because there’s grace sufficient for you. Mary, you’re highly favored. And Mary wasn’t fevered. Well, she was favored in a way that’s unique in that she was the barer of the son of God. But don’t be reading this false theology into this verse. The text doesn’t mean full of grace, it means greatly graced. And that’s the same phrase that’s used of you and me in Ephesians 1:6, the grace that was given to Mary, the highly-favored one, is available to us.
Finally, don’t panic, praise. Don’t panic, praise. Find your joy in Christ amidst the tedious and trying circumstances. We’ll get through this quickly. Is this not the lesson that comes from the encounter between the shepherds and the angels in Luke 2? You can read about it in Luke 2:8-20. And I want you to go to Verse 10, especially because as the angel initially and then a heavenly host appear to these shepherds, they become frightened. And we read here of the third, do not fear. Then the angel said to the in Verse 10, Chapter two, “Do not be afraid for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people for to you who is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.”
Here we have another example within the Christmas story of God exalting the humble. These were humble shepherds. In fact, shepherding was a rung at the bottom of the social ladder. Yet it’s to these humble shepherds in the hills of Judea, probably I’d say Bethlehem, that the angel appears announcing peace, detente between heaven and earth. Interestingly, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that these shepherds were tending sheep that were destined for sacrifice at the temple. So we may want to connect the dots. Here they are tending to sheep that will be slaughtered on Mount Moriah within the temple precincts in accordance with Levitical law.
But we’re told in Hebrews that the blood of sheep and goats will never finally fully cover sin or cleanse it. That was all in anticipation of a final sacrifice. And so when you connect the dots that dark, inky night, these men are enlightened to the fact that God has just provided a full and final sacrifice for sin in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist will get it, won’t they? Very soon, he will get it. In John 1:29, he’ll say, “Behold the lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” Hebrews 9:26 tells us that Jesus Christ appeared at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
This was the good tidings of great joy. God had not come to rub it in, but it come to rub it out. Listen, this is God’s intent. We often go to John 3:16, but go to John 3:17 and John 3:18. God didn’t send a son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world for him might be saved. God is declaring His peace, desires towards all mankind. So what we have here, at this moment, is God orchestrating a solution in Christ that will solve the human predicament, sin and death and judgment, and ultimately and earth’s nightmare. Men were about to be rescued from the futility of life and from the fear of death. That’s what’s bound up in the good tidings that a savior has been born. A deliverer, one has come to rescue us from the dead of our sin, which ultimately needs to be paid in the wages of death and the judgment to follow.
But Jesus Christ will pay for our sin on the cross. Jesus Christ will become the sheath for the sort of God’s justice. Jesus Christ will remove judgment and condemnation that abides above us, if we’ll put our trust in him. And so here they are, standing, shivering out of fear, and the angel says, “Hey guys, you have no basis for fear. I’m bringing you good tidings. God’s not come to rub it in. God’s come to rub it out.” There is this day born in the city of David, a savior who was Christ the Lord. In fact, you could render this like this. Guys do not be afraid. I’m evangelizing you with great joy. I’ve got a message for you. I’m going to blow your socks off and change your life. There’s a sacrifice that’s about to be made that’ll put an end to all the sacrifices of the sheep and the goats on Mount Moriah.
I want you to find your joy in the news that Jesus’ birth signals the arrival of God’s salvation. And you know what we read as we close up here? We read at the end of this section, Verse 20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they’d heard and seen and been told.” They went back to their ordinary lives changed by the message of the gospel. It was a new day. History had turned a wonderful corner. Life was to be lived in a different way because he had come who promised to give life and that more abundantly. Every day now was gilded by a sense of eternal wellbeing. There’s a savior from sin, there’s a redeemer from futility, there’s an answer to death. And in Jesus Christ, there’s no fear of judgment. The routine of life had been invaded by a sense of abounding hope and resounding joy.
God for us, God with us. Someday with God for eternity. Listen, this is where I want to finish here. When things are right with God, it doesn’t matter what else is wrong. Have you looked lately at the end of the Book of Habakkuk? Listen to these words in 3:17, “Though the fig tree may not blossom nor fruit be in the vine, though the labor of the olive may feel in the field, yield no food, though the flock may be cut off from the fold and there’ll be no herd in the stalls yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength and he will make my feet like deer’s feet. He will make me to walk on high hills.”
Habakkuk is anticipating the arrival of the Babylonians and everything described here is the fallout of war, famine, hardship, the loss of wellbeing and security. Yet in the midst of this, he’s going to rejoice in the God of his salvation, and God’s going to give him hind feet. He’s going to allow to stand when everything around him is falling and crushing. When things are right with God, it doesn’t matter what else is wrong.
Here’s what Ben Patterson says to make my point and we’re done. “When circumstances aren’t as agreeable as I want them to be, I practice a little spiritual discipline that has managed to feed my hope and keep me in joy, nevertheless. I have a long version and a short version. Someone will ask me how I am and I’ll answer, ‘Other than the fact that all my sins are forgiven and that I’m going to live in heaven eternally in the joy of Jesus Christ, I’m not doing too well.’ You get the irony, don’t you? The look on the questioner’s face always amuses me. The little irony of saying I’m not doing too well in the face of such magnificent prospects. That’s the long version. The short version is simply this, ‘I’m fundamentally sound.'”
I love that. How are you doing this Christmas? You’re fundamentally sound. You’ve a savior. Your sins are forgiven. You’ve got the signet ring of the Holy Spirit. You’ve got all the promises of God. You’ve got the hope of heaven. Fundamentally sound, and the shepherds got it, and they returned to their everyday life allowing the gospel to shape their mood, their reactions, and their joy. Don’t fear, God answers your prayers. Don’t fear, there’s grace efficient for all that you need. Don’t fear, find your joy in the everlasting joy of knowing Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
Father, thank you for reminding us of these great promises and prospects as we find ourselves in the corridor between 2012 and 2013, not knowing what a day can bring forth, can set us on edge. Lord, the headlines in our newspapers don’t make for happy reading. Our world’s in a state, turmoil in the Middle East, financial crisis in Europe, Islamic terrorism still a global threat. Lord, there’s earthquakes, there’s tsunamis, there’s all sorts of things that could disturb us. But Lord help us, not to panic, but to pray. Help us not to panic, but to act in the strength of your grace. Help is not to panic, but to find our joy. Not in our circumstances, but in the God of our salvation. Amen.